Global Newsmaker: Microsoft's Stephen Forshaw

Microsoft's Asia-Pacific corporate comms director Stephen Forshaw tells PRWeek Global why agencies can only be as good as the clients that brief them.

Forshaw: Microsoft Asia-Pacific head of comms
Forshaw: Microsoft Asia-Pacific head of comms

One year after departing Singapore Airlines for Microsoft, Singapore-based Forshaw has kicked off a comprehensive review of the tech giant's regional PR business in Asia-Pacific. He spoke to PRWeek Global in an early-morning phone call while on a business trip to Microsoft's global HQ in the US city of Redmond.

You moved from one of the most successful Asian brands in Singapore Airlines to Microsoft, a company known for a more American image. How has the transition been?

I actually don't agree that Microsoft is well-known for being American. Certainly, it was founded in America and its global HQ is in America. If you look at its footprint in Asia now, it is enormous. One of the things I'm very keen to accentuate is that international face of Microsoft. The more we dig into this, the deeper the relationships are with local economies, partners and developers. It's been a significant change in corporate culture along with the fact I've moved into an industry that i don't have a background in. It took a lot to prise me out of the Singapore Airlines' role. But I'm just a person who loves to be on a new learning curve periodically, and the size and scale of Microsoft offers me that development opportunity.

I read in another interview that you never intended to work in PR. So what went wrong?

I'd always intended a career working in or around politics. That was always a passion and I worked in Australian politics for a number of years. The ability to argue your case objectively and understand the audience you are speaking to is something that politics has in common with PR. I would like to think that PR professionals are more highly regarded than politicians. So, no regrets – it was a seamless and natural progression. I deal with poltiical issues, public policy issues and exciting business issues as well.

What was the toughest public policy challenge you dealt with at Singapore Airlines?

The position the Australian government was taking on blocking SIA from the trans-Pacific route. We started arguing a position here from the basis of no awareness or public support. The airline hasn't won that case yet but I remain optimistic that the reasons for the argument are sound. We had a similar policy challenge in the UK and the successful result took 18 years.

What is the one thing agencies could do better?

The one thing I look for is a strategic partnership. This is a bit of an identity conflict both for clients and agencies. Some clients expect agencies to be the arms and legs to execute strategy. My preferred view is I want a partner at the table who can help me develop strategy and then go out and execute it. I see it, but I sometimes think the client isn't very specific with the agency about what their role is. An agency can only ever be as good as the client that's briefing them. As clients we have to take some responsibility for the direction we are giving the agency.

What are your media must-haves?

I start every week with The Economist, I am an avid reader, cover-to-cover. I like the fact that the mag takes a stand on issues. I then tend to try to read as widely as I can. I do get inspired by journalism that teaches me something I didn't already know.

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